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« Materialism Breeds Envy | Main | We Have Recourse to Grievance within the Law »

Your Worldly Possessions Relationship: Jesus as the Pearl of Great Price

Everyone knows that a diamond is a girls’ best friend.  Or, that if you want the ultimate driving machine, you need a BMW.  Or, if you want to think different, buy an Apple Computer.  Or, people that want a better idea, own a Ford.  Or, you’re gonna like how you look if you shop at Men’s Wearhouse.  Consequently, we have jewelry, cars, gadgets, clothes, shoes, and more crowding our garages, stuffed into our armoires, spilling out of our closets and locked away in our safes.  The advertisers and marketers have done their job and consumers have been properly brainwashed.  We buy things we don’t need, we work longer hours to pay for them, and we neglect our families in the process.  This is strangely ironic for Christians whose role model is a homeless itinerant who owned nothing but his robe and sandals.  He didn’t even try to hide his pennilessness.  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matthew 8:19-20.  Later, He said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15. 

Readers of Ecclesiastes know that the ownership of worldly goods is a bogus path to happiness.  Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:10-11.  The forgotten lessons of the Preacher and of Jesus now haunt many who live on the typical grand scale of life in the twenty-first century.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are perhaps more pronounced in our day than ever before.  In spite of these proclivities, the stubborn fact remains that a relationship with Jesus Christ impinges upon our desire for worldly goods.  We must now look at our stuff through the eyes of One who had none of it. 

Possessions Are Not the Measure of our Lives 

It may be wrong, but most of us tend to evaluate people in terms of the clothes they wear, the cars they drive or the houses where they live.  If they are well-heeled, we consider them to be self-respecting and responsible.  The culprit may be our culture that causes us to think that those who are doing well have nice things.    Things rule.  We even go so far as to call rich people cheapskates if they dress shabbily or drive clunkers.  These opinions may be superficial, and we may later discover that some are not as we first thought them to be.  Our initial take on people, however, usually stems from observing what they have.   

Jesus saw through this sham.  Not only did He reject the notion that life consists of the abundance of possessions, but He condemned those who defined their lives by their wealth or their accumulation of things.   Earlier, we discussed the parable of Jesus about the wealthy farmer who dismantled his barns to build bigger ones to house his bumper crops.  He made life about himself and no one else.  Even more incriminating was Christ’s account of the rich man and the beggar.  There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Luke 16:19-24.  We take two things away from this story.  First, we must be sensitive to the needs of those around us who are less fortunate than ourselves.  Believers who don’t divert a portion of their income to needy souls need to re-read this passage.  It is serious business.  Given the context, one could even say it is a heaven or hell issue!  Second, it was a wholesale rejection of worldly ranking.  The rich man was undoubtedly much acclaimed for his affluence by the community, and, consequently, he paid scant attention to beggars who were beneath him.  He defined himself by his possessions, but it was a false commentary.  Death and eternity evened the score. 

During my years as pastor, I was always amazed how death leveled the playing field.  I saw both rich and poor in the closing hours of life.  The only things that mattered in those final moments were family and loved ones.  One dying man had little to boast of in money or possessions, but I watched his family encircle his bed and sing hymns as he left this life for the next.  The true measure of his worth had nothing to do with his worldly goods.  It was all about love and care.

We Are to Live Simply, Not Extravagantly 

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes addresses vanity and extravagant living more directly than any other passage in the Bible.  Although the particular components hearken from a distant time, we can still understand the gist.  I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Ecclesiastes 2:4-9. It is apparent that he had the means to acquire whatever he wanted and he put no limits on his desires.  He concluded, “Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17.   

The way one spends money depends on several factors.  Just because someone buys the best product on the market may not necessarily be a function of vanity.  Quality, durability and need also determine one’s purchases.  If the motive is for ostentation and show, or if someone spends money to compete with others, then that is a different matter.  This was Paul’s strong exhortation to Timothy.  Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content … But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:6-12.  To the Philippians, he wrote, Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”   Philippians 4:11-12. 

The only time Jesus advocated extravagance was in worship.  The breaking of the alabaster box met with His approval, even though it was denounced by some of His disciples.  Also, from the description of the dedication of Solomon’s temple, and the fabulous portrayal of the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, we know that total and radical worship is the will of God.  The way we live our daily lives, however, needs to reflect the simplicity that is in Christ.  Our standard of living should grow out of our relationship with Jesus.  

We Must Not Live to Impress Others. 

Our era has been dubbed The Visual Age.  Pictures dancing across gigantic cinematic displays, billboards, TV monitors, computer screens and smart phones have become a way of life, and electronic imagery has forever transformed art, business, commerce, communication, education and dozens of other human interactions.  The unfortunate upshot of this development has been the heightened attention given to appearance, as opposed to substance.  People are often applauded, employees are often hired, politicians are often elected and prospective brides and grooms are often selected based on their looks and whether or not they conform to the fashion of the day.   Substance, character, ability and integrity have suffered demotion in the vetting process.  Anyone who is not photogenic—or telegenic in today’s vernacular—has limited appeal in public life.  But regardless of this trend, believers must hold themselves to a higher standard.  As Paul admonished the Corinthians, a community known for a cosmetic view of life, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.  We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you.” 2 Corinthians 10:12-13.

Living to impress others is a silly undertaking on its face.  People are fickle, circumstances are changeable and success is uncertain.  Once you achieve acceptance in the eyes of others, take care.  The next wind may blow in a storm that wipes out the very goals you worked so hard to win, and the people who lifted you high may cast you aside.  The believer’s true goal is to please the Master.  For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. Galatians 1:10. In His fleshly existence on earth, Jesus made a point to teach His disciples this same truth. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”  John 8:29. 

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